Could the NCAA Have Avoided Its Latest Lawsuit?

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Could the NCAA Have Avoided Its Latest Lawsuit?
Chris Jackson/Associated Press

Hardly a month goes by, it seems, without the NCAA facing some sort of lawsuit. If there was any indication that major college athletics is at a crossroads, this is it. 

On Wednesday, Jon Solomon of AL.com reported that lawyers representing former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston (2009-12) proposed a class-action suit against the NCAA and the five major conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the SEC). 

The complaint alleges that the defendants violated antitrust laws by capping the value of an athletic scholarship below the full cost of attendance. Though Alston is the only name attached to the suit, it seeks former scholarship athletes who played in those conferences beginning in February 2010. 

The Pac-12 could be more directly impacted since the suit claims NCAA rules violated "the policy and spirit of the California's Student Athlete Bill of Rights, as well as the policy and spirit of federal and California antitrust law." 

More from AL.com: 

The complaint, filed in federal court in Northern California, alleges the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten are colluding because they have stated they would implement the cost-of-attendance stipend if they were not bound by collusive agreements with smaller, cash-strapped Division I schools.

Specifics aside, this feels like it could have been avoided. 

Select college football bigwigs attempted to increase the value of an athletic scholarship three years ago. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was among those to push for a stipend estimated to be anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 per player. 

(Alston's suit claims he had to take out a $5,500 loan to cover the difference between his scholarship and the actual cost of attendance.) 

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NCAA president Mark Emmert got behind the idea as well, but the legislation was quickly sent back to the drawing board and remains an unsettled matter. Namely, there's a divide between the so-called haves and have-nots of college football and whether everyone could afford to pony up. 

Recently, the NCAA announced it is looking extensively into a new governance model, the outcome of which may result in autonomy for the five major conferences in college athletics. Part of that autonomy could include providing more benefits to athletes of those conferences. 

Still, that could be a ways off. 

According to John Infante of AthleticScholarships.net, Alston's suit is likely bound for settlement before then. If for no other reason, the complaint closely mirrors a former suit, the White v. NCAA federal antitrust case, which was resolved in 2008 in the form of a $10 million settlement (H/T Jack Carey and Andy Gardiner, USA Today).

At first glance, a quick settlement in the [Alston] case seems likely since the plaintiffs already had a similar class certified in the White case and the NCAA is poised to increase athletic scholarships to the cost-of-attendance in the five power conferences as soon as the new governance structure is sorted out. 

If Division I college athletics are split even further, certain issues, like player stipends, could be split along with it. Whoever can afford to pay players beyond the set value of a scholarship will; those who can't, won't. 

It's what college football's power brokers have wanted for some time. As a secondary result, they could avoid lawsuits similar to Alston's in the future. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a national lead college football writer for Bleacher Report

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